Super Charger | Super Chargers for Car or Truck | Introduction to Supercharger

Engines combust (burn) fuel and use the energy of that combustion to do work. The more fuel that is combusted in any given time then the more energy is available to carry out the engines task. Fuel requires air (or the oxygen contained within air) to burn so if there isn’t enough air mixed with the fuel it will not burn. This also means that the amount of air entering an engine determines how much fuel can be burnt and consequently how much energy (or power) an engine can produce. Superchargers are essentially an air pump designed to cram extra air into an engine allowing it to combust more fuel than would otherwise be possible.


Mercedes pioneered automotive superchargers on their race cars during the 1920’s. These were simple reciprocating compressors attached to the engine by an electrically operated clutch. A switch activated by the accelerator pedal turned the pump on when extra power (full throttle) was required. A flurry of engineering endeavor ensued in order to reign in Mercedes advantage on the racetrack. Within a few short years most of the basic designs for modern superchargers had appeared.


During the 1930’s superchargers were largely the preserve of marine engines, aircraft and race vehicles but gradually found their way into commercial diesel engines by the 1950’s. It has been common for truck engines to be turbo supercharged (a.k.a. turbocharged) for decades but car engines originally had difficulty in effectively employing this technology.


Superchargers mostly fall into one of two categories, mechanically driven superchargers and turbo superchargers driven by exhaust gasses. A third category is starting to make an appearance and that is electrically powered superchargers.


Turbo superchargers (a.k.a. turbochargers or turbo’s) are relatively compact, lightweight and efficient but suffer from turbo lag and heat stress. By turbo lag we mean the amount of time it takes for the turbo’s rotor to speed up to full efficiency. Some of the earliest turbo charged vehicles took so long for the turbo to produce a usable amount of boost that they were all but useless. Modern turbo chargers are much better in this regard but turbo lag is still a problem. Heat is another bane of turbo chargers. Exhaust gasses are extremely hot and can cause so much heat to build up in the turbo that oil will burn and congeal within its galleries leading to a bearing failure. This is why many turbo chargers have a turbo timer. The timer will cause an engine to continue idling for a few minutes after it is switched off allowing excess heat to be dissipated.

01-super charger schematic diagram

Mechanically driven superchargers usually don’t suffer from turbo lag and can often produce more boost than an exhaust driven charger (turbo). On the negative side they are generally bulky, heavy, and have a cumbersome drive mechanism (usually belt drive). Furthermore most chargers of this type have to supply air at all engine speeds and loads making them difficult to match various engine conditions precisely.

As our supercharger is electrically driven we have devoted an entire article to the advantages and disadvantages of this type.

Heat exchangers (intercoolers) are frequently used in conjunction with superchargers. Compressing air increases its temperature thus making it less dense. By re-cooling the compressed volume of air before it enters, density is increased allowing even more air to be forced into the engine. Intercoolers are more important for turbo superchargers as there are two heating sources present, the act of compression and heat from exhaust gasses both increase air temperature.

Turbo-Charger | What Is Turbo Charger | Super Charger | Functions Of Turbo Charger | Turbo Charger Parts

01-twin turbo-supercharger and turbo

A turbocharger is actually a type of supercharger. Originally, the turbocharger was called a "turbo super charger." Obviously, the name was shortened out of convenience.

01-Twincharger_theory-turbocharger layout diagram

A turbocharger’s purpose is to compress the oxygen entering a car’s engine, increasing the amount of oxygen that enters and thereby increasing the power output. Unlike the belt-driven supercharger that is normally thought of when one hears the word "supercharger," the turbocharger is powered by the car’s own exhaust gases. In other words, a turbocharger takes a by-product of the engine that would otherwise be useless, and uses it to increase the car’s horsepower.

01-turbo-parts-turbocharger section-compressor air discharge

Cars without a turbocharger or supercharger are called normally aspirated. Normally aspirated cars draw air into the engine through an air filter; the air then passes through a meter, which monitors and regulates the amount of air that enters the system. The air is then delivered to the engine’s combustion chambers, along with a controlled amount of fuel from the carburetor or fuel injectors.

In a turbocharged engine, however, the air is compressed so that more oxygen will fit in the combustion chamber, dramatically increasing the burning power of the engine. The turbocharger is composed of two main parts: the compressor, which compresses the air in the intake; and the turbine, which draws the exhaust gases and uses them to power the compressor. Another commonly used term in relation to turbochargers is boost, which refers to the amount of pressure the air in the intake is subjected to; in other words, the more compressed the air is, the higher the boost.

Although the increase in power is advantageous to the car — and likely a source of enjoyment for the driver — a turbocharger has its drawbacks. First and foremost, a turbocharged engine must have a lower compression ratio than a normally aspirated engine. For this reason, one cannot simply put a turbocharger on an engine that was intended for normal aspiration without seriously undermining the life and performance of the engine. Also, a lower compression ratio means the engine will run less efficiently at low power.

Another major drawback of a turbocharger is the phenomenon known as turbo lag. Because the turbocharger runs on exhaust gases, the turbine requires a build-up of exhaust before it can power the compressor; this means that the engine must pick up speed before the turbocharger can kick in. Additionally, the inlet air grows hotter as it is compressed, reducing its density, and thereby its efficiency in the combustion chamber; a radiator-like device called an intercooler is often used to counter this effect in turbocharged engines.